Senator BOSWELL (Queensland) (13:07): I rise today to speak on an issue that is dear to my heart: the family. Without it I would be nothing and nor would most of the population on the planet. I do not mean to delve into clichés, but there is no other way to put it: the family is the cornerstone of society. Since ancient times it has been the main institution to which all individuals have looked for guidance, protection, discipline and a sense of belonging. And the root of most of these families is the social institution of marriage—that is, the marriage between a man and a woman. This union has a specific purpose in that it is designed to bring children into the world and to nurture and form those children into responsible, well-adjusted adults who can make a valuable contribution to society. This is how it has been for thousands of years—for our parents and our grandparents through the generations.
Yes, it is true that sometimes marriages do not work out. And, yes, it is true that marriage is rather debased today. Sometimes children do not grow up as well adjusted as we would want. But, for as long as we have known, the family unit has been based on the convention of marriage between a man and a woman— the only relationship that of itself can produce children. It is the ideal and, as a society, we must always struggle to obtain the ideal.
We know from experience that, on the whole, the family and a marriage between a man and woman allows children to live in a safe, protected environment where they are allowed to grow into adults who pass on strong values to their children. The family is a continuum. We know this from experience and, therefore, we cling to that continuous ideal and look to uphold it. If we abandon that ideal then what we are in effect saying is, 'We do not care; we do not care about others; we do not care about our children', and, therefore, we will debase society, develop a 'near enough is good enough' mentality and become a society that is far more concerned with the rights of a few individuals than it is with the rights of society as whole.
In Australia we now stand at the brink. We have to make a decision. Do we as a society turn away from everything we know, everything that our society is based on—the ideal of the family as it has been for thousands of years? Or do we go the other way, down the 'near enough is good enough' route, and allow gay marriage and just give up on the ideal?
It is a cliché that Australian citizens in general are apathetic about moral issues. We live in such a wonderful society that we are rarely fazed by potential change in legislation or policy. Only until it actually happens do we really think about the repercussions of changes to certain legislation. But this issue touches all of us and, although the polls are supposedly in favour of this change, the polls are inconsistent. Indeed, some polling shows that people are beginning to change their minds.
Two polls come to mind. A Galaxy poll taken earlier this year showed over 60 per cent in favour of gay marriage, but another poll about one month ago showed 50 per cent in favour of it and an increase in the undecided vote. As senators, ministers and members of parliament, we should not be following polls or trends on issues as important as marriage. Following polls is a cop out. We are opinion makers, not opinion followers. This is not an issue about the way popular opinions trend; rather, it is an issue about what we as a society should be encouraging and what we should be discouraging. The risk is our indifference to issues that we do not see as affecting us directly but that slowly and surely harm our society.
With gay marriage we have to ask ourselves the question: what does this mean to the society in which we live and for which, as Australian law makers, we are responsible? From a distance, the issue of gay marriage looks like a lot of other issues to the Australian voter. From the outside, it does not look as though it harms anybody. It does not seem to affect other individuals who do not engage in it. It does not seem to harbour any cost to the taxpayer or to organisations. It seems a relatively harmless relaxation of the laws and conventions. However, the problem lies in what happens after the conventions have been relaxed.
The reason marriage is between a man and a woman is in order to have children. Two men or two women cannot conceive without some outside assistance. Marriage is not just a convention or a mere formality. It is a mechanism that was created by society to bring the two sexes together to create a foundation of moral, social and legal protection and stability. Without this foundation, we are risking a lot. Like all things that have a foundation, society also has a base, a floor, a foundation. That foundation has to be and always will be the family. The family plays an integral part in society.
A society cannot function properly without a proper family providing a base and functioning in the way that it should—that is, as a safe, secure and caring institution. It is important to bring children up with a mother and a father who, with love and care, tell their children right from wrong. Once those children have grown up, there is a unit and a support network in place, through grandparents, aunts and uncles. They all contribute to creating a larger, stronger base that holds up society as a whole. This all starts with the marriage between a man and a woman, who both have unique qualities and who complement one another when they engage in the process of raising children.
Allowing gay marriage is not about letting people into some exclusive club; nor is it a sign of love. One would assume that if a gay couple had been living together for a long time they would already love one another. Relaxing the laws on the exclusivity of marriage would be like saying that this sexual bond between men and women is no longer fundamentally important to our society. But the very fact of this difference is important because children can be conceived and within that union those children should flourish. If we adopt gay marriage, it means that we adopt the 'near enough is good enough' mantra. We deny that difference which is part of nature itself. We are saying that any two people are as good as a mother and father. Well, if that is the case, why do we have marriage at all?
Marriage is not just a sign of love or a piece of paper; it is a bond society has created between the sexes to ensure that the only relationship that of itself can produce children remains apart, different and, yes, exclusive from all other types of relationships—and, yes, superior to those relationships. Marriage has, even in the debased atmosphere of today's social milieu, a sort of sacredness. Witness the couples who live together, sometimes for many years, then marry when they want to have children. Some may argue that without marriage the legal rights of a gay couple are severely compromised. This is not the case, as most gay couples—or most de facto couples, for that matter— have just as many legal rights as married couples. All forms of discrimination against different couples have been removed.
One consistent element in marriage in cultures all over the world is that it has always been exclusively between a man and a woman. There has always been a recognition that the bond of marriage is between a man and a woman—and for a reason: it brings the two genders together, which creates a base to raise children in, which in turn allows societies or communities to flourish. Without this bond or convention that base breaks down, as does the community base.
It is understandable that gay people want to marry. It is entirely understandable for people to want some legal recognition of their relationship. But this has not happened because there is a great upsurge among the general population in favour of gay marriage. Rather, as the gay activist, journalist and supporter of gay marriage Andrew Sullivan has said, this would never have happened if heterosexual marriage had not become debased. I deplore that fact, but we must continue to defend marriage between a man and a woman, because we must continue to defend the family that comes from it and put it front and centre in the social edifice. If we break the nexus between marriage and the only type of sexual relationship that can produce children—the one between a man and a woman—we will have broken the nexus between marriage and the family and society and have made it no more than 'near enough is good enough'—an empty piece of paper. In that case we might as well not have marriage at all.